Are You Built to NaNoWriMo? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Kit Steinkellner

Staff Writer

Kit Steinkellner is a playwright, screenwriter, and creative writing teacher. She also writes about books and reading  at Books Are My Boyfriends. Follow her onTwitter: @BooksAreMyBFs

We’re a week into National Novel Writing Month (the worldwide challenge that asks ordinary people to try and write 50,000 words of a novel in a month). I’m sure we have a TON of Book Riot readers participating in this mega event. At the one week mark, I think it’s worth taking a good hard look at what makes a person able to write 50,000 words in a month and why NaNoWriMo works for the people it works for. Below, a list of questions to ask yourself:

1.) Are you an “External Deadline or Perish” kind of writer?

I once had a friend, who, while writing his screenplay, would send me ten-page chunks every few days. I was instructed NOT to read the attachments of these e-mails. The point wasn’t that I READ what he was writing. It was that he KNEW someone was expecting a page count in their inbox. It was that he FEEL the pressure to deliver.

If you NEED an external deadline, if you can’t push yourself to write a novel if no one is pushing back, NaNoWriMo is great for being that naggy, finger-wagging mom-figure… only instead of having to clean your room, you have to write a novel. I don’t know how you feel about cleaning your room, but to me writing a novel sounds like a LOT more fun.

2.) Are you an “If I Think Too Hard About It, I’ll Never Do It” kind of writer?

Because if you think too hard about most things, you probably WILL never do them. Writing 50,000 words is a scaling-bramble-covered-castle-walls-to-fight-a-fire-breathing-dragon-with-your-measly-squire’s-sword kind of task. If you love great books and great writers and great pages/paragraphs/sentences/words, it can be a seemingly impossible task to nerve up and create what you love. NaNoWriMo doesn’t let you think too hard about it. You have a month, you have a daily word count to meet and a total word count to meet, go, go, go!

3.) Are you a “Writing in a Room by Myself is Too Lonely, I Need Friends” kind of writer?

Writer’s block is the most commonly chatted-about scribe’s malady, but I think another huge factor that prevents writers from writing is the loneliness factor. I mean, yeah, you can get out of the house and go write in the stacks of your local library or at a teeny-tiny coffee shop table, and having other people around can cut the edge, but there is still a tendency to feel isolated in your pursuit. NaNoWriMo is the training-for-an-upcoming-marathon of creative pursuits. There are so many people going through the same struggles as you are and you can hook up on the forums, on their Facebook page, on Twitter during your ten minute writing breaks (but a REAL ten minutes, once you get to minute eleven it’s off the internet and back to writing you go!).

4.) Are you a “Keeping Your Expectations in Check” kind of writer?

If your goal is to someday get your NaNoWriMo novel published (I have to imagine this is most people’s goal unless you’re like those Zen Buddhist monks who do those exquisite, intricate sand paintings and then just let the wind blow them away because everything is temporary and the act of creating is enough, in which case you are a model human being and I want to live inside your brain forever) BUT if you do want something more to happen for your NaNoWriMo project, you have GOT to keep your expectations in check and know that participating in NaNoWriMo is a huge step, but you are probably NOT going to wind up with a finished project by December 1st. What you will have is 50,000 words (or 25,000 or 10,000 or 1,500 words) of SOMETHING. You may have a bunch of the right words in there, or they may be all the wrong words (but probably not, I’m sure you have a couple conjunctions in your manuscript you can recycle). No matter what, you will have something, and you’ve got to find that Zen-Buddhist-Monk-Sand-Painter inside of you and let that something be enough.

5.) Are You a “Turn-Your-Can’ts-Into-Cans-And-Your-Dreams-Into-Plans” Kind of Writer?

This is dream big time. You may not have the time or the energy or the sheer physical ability to write 1,600-something words a day (and if you’re starting now, it’s going to be more like 2,000 words a day). But you do have the time/energy/sheer physical ability to write something this month. Unless you’re like, a ghost and your fingers go through the keyboard every time you try to type. But chances are you are not a ghost reading this and you DO have the ability to write something this month. So don’t let the word count expectations intimidate you if work/health/obligations/debilitating fear of the blank page are going to prevent you from getting 1,600-2,000 words done a day. Get 100 words done a day if that’s all you’re able. Get 1 word done a day if that’s all you’re able. Word counts that would only fill up thimbles and teaspoons are fine in my book as long as you keep your dreams the size of whales and dinosaurs.

So what do we think, NaNoWriMo-ers? Are we built for writing the bulk of a novel in a month? What core ideas/values/qualities/abilities are you finding that keep you on track?